There have been no narwhal sightings since last week, but the whales that we have seen are in much smaller groups and appear with much less frequency than further south. There is debate over where these animals come from and go to. Some of the locals think these animals come from Greenland. The whales are regularly seen but are sporadic and more unpredictable than a resident population. This is why fitting even just one narwhal with a satellite transmitter could provide valuable information on their migration route.
Although quiet on the narwhal front, the fiord has been a veritable hive of activity as seabirds flock in huge numbers looking for Arctic cod. When a small shoal is located near the surface, the birds circle tighter and tighter, forming a vortex of diving squadrons splashing noisily. The cacophony continues as birds with fish in their beaks are mobbed by others trying to take off with their prize catch. Added to this are many groups of harp seals, some 20 to 30 strong in number, charging up and down in their pursuit of the cod. In the still early morning hours you can hear them grunting and snorting.
Yesterday, a random iceberg came down the fiord heading directly for our narwhal net. This required some swift action, as the rapidly approaching ice would have carried away everything in its path. The team quickly went to the net and cut the anchor line so we could pull it clear.
All was clear until last night. This morning, as I rose from my tent just before 3 a.m., the air was damp as a low-lying mist rolled into camp along with another large piece of ice. This time the boat crew managed to redirect the ice around the end of the net, and all looked good until about 15 minutes later when the ice started to head back into the net when the tide changed.
This time, we opted to pull the net and got it all in just ahead of the small iceberg, which grounded right in front of our camp. With fog rolling in, ice on the shore and choppy seas, we have decided to wait until the next tide before redeploying the net. So it’s just polar bear watch for now – that and checking for icebergs on the horizon.
Clint Wright, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre’s senior vice president and general manager, has ventured into Canada’s Arctic for the sixth year in a row to conduct research on narwhals, which make up a vital part of the Arctic ecosystem. Keeping track of their population size and understanding migration patterns are important in making sure their populations stay healthy. Clint joins a team of experts led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. He will be providing regular updates on his research. This is his fifth blog post of this series.